I just spent three weeks teaching in Italy on a trip that had (despite some challenges) many glorious moments. One highlight was getting invited to the home—Villa Aurora—of Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. Her 16th-century estate, smack in the center of Rome, is loaded with masterpiece paintings from, I kid you not, Michelangelo, Caravaggio (his only ceiling painting ever), Picasso, Dali….
The 72-year-old blonde Texan told of how her late husband, the prince, descended from popes. Wait. I forgot to mention her first-century bust of Julius Caesar, on whose ancient gardens (which inspired those at Versailles) she said the villa is built.
Anyway, this all came about because her sister in Fort Worth attends Bible study with one of my students, who posted about going on the trip as a photographer/artist thanks in part to the grant that’s allowing me to explore women in the visual record of the church. And voila—here came the invitation for our group of artists to have a private tour.
Four years ago, Princess Rita lost her husband, who left her with the right to remain on the property till she dies. But his kids contested her right to stay. And because she said she does not want to spend the rest of her life in court, she’s selling. The initial price was set at half a b-b-billion dollars. But (since Elon Musk was busy buying Twitter?), no takers the first time around. So they lowered the price to a third of a billion, and will take another go. You can Google it. It’s apparently the highest pricetag ever set on a residential property. I swear I’m not making this up.
She was warm and hospitable and, at the moment, is hosting her Ukrainian housekeeper’s family, who have taken refuge with her—having had to leave behind their son-in-law/husband/father.
Italy post-COVID has some infrastructure challenges to overcome. We went places I’d double-verified only to find them closed. But just as often we’d stumble on an unexpected museum opening, where we had the place to ourselves. I rolled my ankle one week in, and it’s still swollen and keeping me from standing for long. But the views of Umbrian and Tuscan landscapes took our breath away. The art dazzled. The worship in spaces built for music to reverberate have left me longing for those sounds. People from Doha to Northern California forged friendships. Nuns blew us away with their hospitality rooted in a theology that says “you might just be Jesus in the body of a hungry person so I’m going to serve you as if you’re Him.” We read 2 Timothy in the prison where Paul might have written it. We read Romans 16 in the space Phoebe probably delivered it. And we saw a lot of art (including a once-in-a-lifetime collection/show of Donatello’s works that happened to be in Florence while we were there).
We noticed a lot of ancient churches named for women, especially around the eighth and ninth centuries. I wrote about that here.
In other news, Missio Nexus ran the last in a series of my articles on men and women pursuing ministry partnership. Now you can find them all in one place.
I have a couple weeks blocked off (after I catch up on email) to work on my book, Nobody’s Mother, about Artemis of the Ephesians at the time of the earliest Christians. And I’m teaching a doctoral-level course in self-publishing for ministry in July.
Hope you don’t overheat and get a chance to see something beautiful this summer. Preferably a place with some water.